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The Lack of a Strong 'Direct' Parliamentary Role in EU Policy-Making


The aim of this chapter is to extend the arguments and evidence presented so far to the question of why national parliaments lack strong rights and means to participate directly in EU policy-making (for brevity, this chapter refers to this lack of rights and means also as the lack of a strong 'direct role' in EU affairs). Recall from the first chapter: the parliaments of the member states have obtained selected information rights that are now included in the EU treaties. They have also established a range of arenas for inter-parliamentary cooperation. Some scholars have also highlighted that informal interaction and cooperation among national parliaments, and with members of the EP takes place (Raunio 2000; Neunreither 2005; Miklin and Crum 2011; Wonka and Rittberger 2014). However, for reasons that this chapter will address, national parliaments' direct role in EU affairs has clear limits. Participation in inter-parliamentary cooperation is voluntary and procedures for taking decisions or significant bureaucratic resources are lacking. Informal, inconsequential, and sparse inter-parliamentary interaction is the rule rather than the exception—certainly, if compared to the extensive reforms of formal oversight rights and capacities that have taken place in some member states.

This chapter argues that intergovernmental constitutional preferences and constraints from existing institutions undermine parliamentarians' support for reform proposals that would strengthen their direct European role. In countries where parliamentarians, for ideological and institutional reasons, conceive of the focus of their parliament's role in EU affairs (as well as in domestic policy-making) as overseeing and influencing the national government, they regard with suspicion any proposal for a direct European role. The only exception might be reform suggestions that would not require parliaments to act at the European level, as institutional entities independent of national governments. Changes that are compatible with a focus on domestic oversight might find the support of intergovernmentalist parliamentarians and in countries where parliaments already have strong domestic competences in and beyond EU affairs.

The argument and analysis of this chapter is situated at the level of individual parliamentarians. One may object that an explanation of why parliaments as institutional entities lack a strong direct role at the European level requires an account of reform decision-making. One may further note that the previous chapters focused on constitutional preferences of political party leaderships. First, however, in keeping with the arguments advanced in Chapter 3, the variety of positions within the parliament is the foundation of national parliaments' collective institutional goals, not because they act as unitary, non-partisan, actors but because party leaders seek inclusive positions to avoid political conflicts from which they stand to gain little. Second, existing studies have already documented the interaction of parliamentary and governmental policy-makers regarding reform proposals that require a collective EU decision to establish direct parliamentary rights in EU affairs (Rittberger 2005:177-96; see also Raunio 2009: 322-5; Bengtson 2007). The main point is that neither parliaments nor governments, which have so far held similar stances, have been able to agree on more than the limited direct role that parliaments currently have. In negotiations such as during the Convention on the Future of Europe or in discussions during COSAC meetings, the only reforms acceptable to parliamentary delegations from all member states did not impose any obligations on national parliaments, or constituted otherwise far-reaching changes to the institutional status quo. The last section of this chapter provides illustrations of these inter-parliamentary interactions. However, against the background of what can already be found in the literature, the main question is why parliamentary preferences differ across and within the member states. Shedding light on this unresolved issue demands an analysis of parliamentarians' views on different reform proposals.

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